Melanie McDonagh

The BBC’s obsession with diversity has ruined Gardeners’ Question Time

The BBC's obsession with diversity has ruined Gardeners' Question Time
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Captain James Cook: Claiming the Great South Land

John Molony

Connor Court, pp. 196, £

There’s nothing wrong with radio continuity announcers; one is a friend of mine and he’s very sharp. But the doubts about whether reading the news and the jokes between one item and another is a qualification to present programmes that actually require you to know what you’re talking about remain, now that Kathy Clugston has completed her first session as presenter of Gardeners' Question Time.

She’s got nice diction, Kathy, but as a gardener she hasn’t got a clue – and in fairness she did let this be known at the outset. She started off by getting her audience at Tiptree in Essex to shout out – on the basis they live near a jam-manufacturers – whether they put jam or cream on their scones first. I don’t think the mellifluous Eric Robson, the man she replaced, would have done anything quite so rubbish. And she concluded by declaring – and it could happen to anyone – that she’d forgotten the payoff line (it was in fact Goodbye and Good Gardening, or, May The Weather Be With You) but she replaced it with, 'May Your Pruning Be Prolific', which kind of confuses a process with an outcome, gardening-wise.

It made even more baffling the announcement last week that she would be paid the same as the deputy presenter, Peter Gibbs, who actually knows what he’s talking about, and has been doing the job for 15 years. Kathy, we all now know, is able to tackle a windowbox, but that’s it. But no problem. Because her chief and only qualification is that she is a woman, and it is now a rule at the BBC that any vacancy with any impact on viewers and listeners must be filled by a woman – though to be fair, that’s true of public life generally, which is why we are likely to get that utterly frightful woman, Baroness Vadera, as the next Governor of the Bank of England. But anyway, back to Kathy, who doesn’t seem quite to grasp the essence of GQT, which is that it’s easy-going on the surface, and utterly filthy in terms of jokes, but has a hard layer at spade depth of actual knowledge. Eric Robson wore his lightly, but as you could tell from his crusade about ground elder and his gags about Rambling Rectors (a rose), he knew his stuff, enough to get the best from his excellent panel.

Thank goodness, then for the GQT panel, notably Matthew Wilson, who was able to elicit needful facts from questioners, and Bunny Guinness, who filled in any of the awkward gaps, but it just made you wonder why one of them wasn’t presenting instead.

GQT used to be one of my favourite programmes; now it’ll be another test of endurance. Obviously it’s not Kathy Clugston’s fault that she was plucked from a job she did well to present one of the programmes listeners actually care about, and which has previously been proof against the Corporation’s obsession with diversity at the expense of competence (the women panellists are, as it happens, uniformly excellent); it’s the BBC’s. But I suppose I’m just bitter. There are all sorts of subjects I know next to nothing about – cars, sport and IT, say – and I’m a woman, so how come I haven’t been asked to present anything? They know where to find me.

Written byMelanie McDonagh

Melanie McDonagh is a leaderwriter for the Evening Standard and Spectator contributor. Irish, living in London.

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